Una fantasia on the bus
by Jackie Cummins
“Your baby’s ugly.”
It’s the guero loco in the seat behind you breathing into your neck, stinking of coffee and body odor. He’s always on the bus saying nasty things to passengers. Today it’s your turn.
You ignore him and hope he goes away.
Instead he leans over and hisses, “Your. Baby’s. Ugly.” Then cackles loud.
Heads turn and the old lady with the yellow slicker gives you a sympathetic smile, but nobody says a word. You wish you had the courage to say go fuck yourself.
Tormas would if he was sitting next to you, all tattooed with his slick black hair, leg always shaking like he’s in a hurry. Guero loco would go bother someone else.
Only Tormas isn’t here. It’s just you and Junior, content in his blue-checked infant carrier and chewing on a green elephant pacifier.
The blanket you tucked so carefully around him before leaving the small apartment where the heat doesn’t work right because the radiators are old so all winter you freeze your ass off has fallen to the torn grey seat. You huff and pick it up then toss it over Junior’s kicking legs. In two minutes it will be on the seat again.
“Sick of these wackos,” you mutter.
Junior giggles to get your attention but you are too beat to smile. Instead, you pull out his pacifier and play a little game, teasing him with the elephant by bringing it just to his mouth then pulling back fast. He laughs harder.
“Why can’t he do the right thing, huh, mijo?” You use that sticky sweet voice reserved only for babies and imbeciles.
Back and forth the pacifier goes, in and out. Junior gives a gut-wrenching belly laugh that makes the old lady grin, almost losing her dentures. She pushes them back, wiggles her fingers at you and looks out the window.
Don’t be embarrassed, abuelita. We all gonna be there someday.
You hate all these crazy characters on the bus. Every day it’s you and Junior bumping across town on the Orange Line, from the projects at South Lawndale to Olive-Harvey where you’re in the certified nursing assistant program.
Fucking lunatic calling my boy ugly.
Staring out the window as the bus bumps along, graffiti-smattered brick rolls by like pictures in a viewfinder. The bus rocks back and forth like when you used to swing on Abuelo’s hammock down in Matamoros, the sun baking your skin brown, lulling you into a daydream. You imagine what you would do if it was only you and guero loco on the bus. No Tormas, no mute passengers.
The light turns bright as the white plaster on Abuelo’s veranda. Guero loco is behind you and the bus is empty.
“Hey puta,” he whispers, “I got something for you.”
His hand is on his pants jiggling up and down but instead of screaming obscenities at him you turn in the seat slow and smooth, fingers wrapped around a pen. It hangs around your neck advertising the latest pharmaceutical drug.
You drift off to the last time you heard that word, flung at you by Papi after you told him about the baby. Papi, who always said you were his “princesa” snapping “puta” as you sob at the kitchen table.
“Why you go do that, Angelina? Now you’re just like the rest of the trash in this building who spread their legs for any hombre.”
Then he slapped your face and kept on slapping even as you cried, “Papi, papi, no!”
He was drunk. Mama had to pull him off and haul him out the door where the naca waited in her shiny black truck. The whole neighborhood came out to watch him spit in the street while you stood on the brick stoop, hair tangled, red welts rising on your face where his meaty hands made contact.
“You are not my daughter,” he yelled, belly flopping as he staggered into the front seat. “Tu eres una puta!”
“Whore,” from the man who left Mama alone with three children to raise so he could fly to the suburbs with some gringa slut and her bottle blonde Barbie hair, pale face the color of unbaked flan.
They expect you to play the sweet little princesa but when the time is right put on the mantle of the whore. If you get caught, well, that’s just the price you pay. Mama calls it “the curse of Eve.”
If it wasn’t for that little shit on the school bus, José, who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about catching you and Tormas in the woods behind the playground, you might have stayed in school. He blabbed to everyone so the next day at the bus stop was hell. The lot of them laughing, grabbing at their crotches, even the girls giving you shit. “Hey, Angelina, you Tormas’s girlfriend now?”
You shrugged your shoulders, “Maybe.”
Then that girl with hair dyed clown orange burst out laughing, “So am I! Guess we better come up with a schedule, eh chica? How ‘bout every other day.” She snapped her gum and added, “Never mind. I don’t want no sloppy seconds!”
Tormas. Tormas with the muscles from lifting every afternoon at La Villeta Community Center that puff out his sleeves, cigarette dangling from thick lips. That day you walked by him in your tank top, that little waist swinging those wide hips, you knew you looked hot. You wanted him to notice you and he did. Hopped off the stoop so fast, slid on next to you and walked down nineteenth street, all the way to your door, sweet talking. “Damn, girl, you rockin’ them jeans,” and “Baby, I got to see you again.”
So you did. You hooked up and fell hard. For a month he showed up at your door after Mama went off to work, then you snuck him up into your room, paying off your sister and brother with money for sodas and tamales.
It felt good, his hands on your skin, his hair so dark and soft in your hands, the way he would moan for you, “please, baby, please,” like you were the only one who could relieve his pain.
And when your period was one week late then two and you went to Pilsen Wellness for a free test that turned out positive he promised, “No baby, no, I ain’t going nowhere. You my baby mama.”
That turned out to be a lie. He stuck around for awhile, but then one day when your abdomen was so distended it felt like you would burst he asked, “How do I know the baby’s even mine, Angie? How do I know you ain’t trying to trap me?”
You were shocked, couldn’t say anything except sputter, “I-I was a virgin, Tormas.”
He shook his head, “I ain’t never had a virgin. I had plenty of putas, though,” then giggled like a nasty schoolboy, his boys laughing behind their hands, shuffling up the block like they owned it.
As guero loco sits dumb in his seat you think about all of that and how, when you were little, you poured over fairy tales. Those stories where girls always do stupid shit like eat an apple from some old crow, prick a finger on a needle or stay too late at the dance.
It wasn’t them you were interested in anyway, it was him. The prince, the knight in shining armor on a white horse who would come and carry his “princesa” away from the fireplace cinders. Those stories made you believe in possibilities. In the possibility of wishes and princes and castles in the sky.
Your happiest childhood memory is the day Papi took you to the Sears Tower, all the way to the top, so high up clouds obscured the view. You wanted that day to last forever, your nose pressed to the glass watching yourself spin and spin. That’s how you imagine those castles, so high in the sky your skin would glow white as a cloud.
“Do you believe in happy endings?” you ask guero loco.
He looks confused. His hand stops jiggling, reaches up to scratch at his matted hair.
“What, you mean like Snow White or some shit?”
“Yeah.” Your voice comes out a whisper as you fondle the pen around your neck.
“Nah, man, it’s all bullshit.”
He clears his throat, licks his lips, then, “Hey, puta.”
His hand is back on his crotch. “I got your happy ending right here.”
“Now why gotta call me that, Puta?” you say, grabbing his neck with your free hand and punching the point of the pen into his jugular with the other. They taught you where to find it in school. It isn’t hard.
He writhes on the gum-strewn floor of the bus muddied by multitudes while you watch serene for the first time in months as he takes his last breath with eyes open wide, registering terror and a hint of disbelief.
You can’t help but laugh at him there on the floor, a bloody halo around his greasy head. The expression on his face is so funny, like someone jumped out of the corner and said, “Boo!”
You laugh, too, because who could imagine that the silent little chica who rides the bus and sits in the same seat every day wearing surgical scrubs and carrying Junior in his blue-checked infant carrier would ever unleash a monster?
Not Tormas who doesn’t call anymore. Not Papi who left Mama with three kids to run away with some white trash gringa. Not that fucking little shit José or the kids at the bus stop or these passengers who turn a blind eye.
You see the concrete and brick of the community college looming up ahead and quick reach up to pull the cord. It emits a tired “ting.” As you lumber down the steps overburdened with baby and books the light hits Junior’s face at just the right angle and that’s when you see it, the same thing as guero loco now flicking his tongue at you from the window.
Junior’s sweetness is fading.
His cheeks are a little less round, teeth are pushing through gums and that soft downy hair is turning coarse and dark. His black eyes blink and stare with a grin so familiar. It’s the same half-smile that got you into the woods and dribbled your pants down only to leave with a shrug at the hospital, papi chulo hanging on your tit.
Goddamn if Junior don’t look like his dad.
Jackie Cummins is a recent graduate of Cleveland State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English, and is waiting patiently to hear from MFA programs regarding her applications for fall of 2012. She is the mother of four children, the spouse of a Coast Guard officer, and a former stage actress and member of Actors’ Equity Association. She is thrilled to have Mixed Fruit Magazine publish her story.